Oftentimes patients’ family members are the most difficult part of my job.  They can be intrusive, overbearing, bossy and demanding. Family members sometimes even get in the way during procedures or emergencies, and it is common to hear clinicians complaining about how annoying this can be.

But recently the tables were turned, and I was one of those family members. Last week, I lost a loved one to cancer. I was one of 20 family members and friends gathered at his bedside and in the waiting room as we offered support and grieved together. 

Our family and friends took over the waiting room and the halls. We were the annoying family that seemed to be around every corner of the hospital unit. Yet the nurses, physicians, and support staff all treated us with the utmost respect and kindness.   

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The hospital staff never asked us to leave or limited the number of visitors. The nutrition department even brought the family a cart of sandwiches, drinks, snacks, and desserts.

I will say that our family was quiet and tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. We were not demanding, rude or boisterous and every one of us treated the medical staff with utmost respect — which included leaving the room for procedures, and offering the nurses help with repositioning and hygiene. I believe that effort went a long way. 

This experience has changed my thoughts about family members and medical care. I was reminded of how stressful it can be to have a family member or loved one in the hospital. I realized that even during a happy time, such as the birth of a baby, anxiety might be high. This may explain some of the difficult behavior and demand that we as providers complain about. 

I will never forget the respectful and compassionate care that we as a family received during such a sad time. The staff of that hospital taught me an important lesson. Patients’ family and loved ones are not just annoyances to be dealt with but are an integral part of the care of any patient.

Caring for the family, as well as the patient, can go a long way in creating positive experiences and outcomes, even during the worst of times.